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How well does cedar take a exterior stain like a semi-transparent deck stain?
I made a pair of child-sized picnic tables using red cedar, and used Cabot's honey-toned semi-transparent, "Australian timber oil" based stain on the whole thing. Cedar soaks it up quite happily and looks great. Over time the wood will gray, but the tone in the stain keeps it looking nice.
The first table has now gone two full seasons (2x summer, 2x winter) and it is juuuust showing a bit of 'wear' on the table-top. A quick scuff sanding and respray should do it for another 2 years. The one I just made last summer still looks brand new (I put it in storage for this past winter).
A more elaborate answer to your question would be this:
For outdoor furniture what do you want: An easier maintenance finish, or a longer last finish?
If you only use an oil-based stain, semi-transparent or not, you can reapply very easily, but it will be required at least every two years. Possibly every year depending on where you live / weather conditions.
If you go through the extra efforts of putting clear coats (e.g. exterior poly (AKAK spar varnish)), then it will likely last 3-4 years, but you will have to completely strip it in order to do any real quality reapplication. You can do spot touch-ups but it won't be unnoticeable and not as protective.
Cedar is great for outdoors because it is naturally rot & insect resistant. The oil / stain just helps repel water, and adds some color. Using a sealing varnish actually locks in the natural characteristics of the cedar and you're relying solely on the poly.